The accused who was apprehended last week had a whopping seven lakh plus subscribers on his channel. He was goaded on by his fans with monetary incentives whenever he indulged in displays of obscenity. A police team attached to the Chennai City Central Crime Branch has registered a case against the YouTuber under IPC Sections 294-B (use of obscene language in public), 509 (insulting the modesty of women), and the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act.
Several netizens, including podcasters, social media influencers and artistes have often run afoul of the law for using inappropriate or obscene language and hurting religious sentiments or portraying women in a poor light on public forums. But this development might be the first time a gamer has been pulled up in such a dramatic fashion for bad mouthing his opponents. It is essential we place this incident in context of the behaviour that has become normalised in gaming circles, not just in India, but globally too.
Multiplayer games, especially first person shooters or FPS (as they are known in industry parlance), which include PUBG, Counter Strike, Halo and the Doom franchisees predominantly attract a male demographic. The games which function on the premise of ‘kill or be killed’ are testosterone driven pastimes, where the aim is to shoot everything in sight. In the early 2000s, during the golden age of gaming and the beginning of high speed internet, e-gaming tournaments became a mainstay of the gaming community in India.
Teenage boys from relatively affluent backgrounds with access to a computer found such arenas of escapism as a welcome distraction. But what this also entailed was adoption of the taunt based or trash-talking gameplay style popularised by gamers in the West. Armed with headsets, the teams had turned tourneys into venues where bullets, rockets, friendly fire and expletives would fly thick and fast. While the local gaming communities had never condoned such behaviour, they had not denounced it as well, thanks to the ‘boys will be boys philosophy’, which considered such behaviour as part and parcel of the sport.
Such demonstrations of alpha male behaviour are not limited to video gaming arenas. Apart from wrestlers, mixed martial arts fighters, boxers and their extended fan base, roughhousing insults have even crept into the gentleman’s game. Cricket has its own phrase for such taunts – sledging. While Australia has made a fine art of this, India did not take things lying down. Some of India’s top cricketers including Saurav Ganguly and Virat Kohli pride themselves on their on-field aggression. But there are also instances when things went too far. The Monkeygate controversy during the Sydney test of 2008 witnessed an on-field altercation involving Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh, where the latter allegedly called the former Australian all-rounder a monkey.
Closer home, the accused streamer had employed a public forum to disseminate misogynistic comments, to which many had taken an exception. But is the outrage justified by singling him out amidst the thousands of accounts on video sharing platforms, where similar content is being posted? It is necessary to examine the role of such platforms that facilitate the spread of objectionable content that seems to have escaped the eye of moderation agents. Such examples have often become the reference point for impressionable young minds, who don’t see anything wrong in indulging in insults as part of e-sports. And it’s just a matter of time before they up the ante with sexist, racist, obscene and homophobic insults, especially in the absence of supervision by those who think it’s all ‘fun and games’.